Fed workers back after Obama signs shutdown-debt ceiling bill

Federal workers back after Obama signs shutdown-debt ceiling bill

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WASHINGTON -

(CNN) -- Mini coffee cakes from the vice president. Hugs from colleagues, along with eye-rolls about their "vacation" due to the partial government shutdown.

Federal workers were back on the job Thursday, streaming into government offices in Washington and opening national landmarks such as St. Louis' Gateway Arch after the 16-day shutdown that ended when President Barack Obama signed a spending and debt ceiling agreement passed by Congress on Wednesday night.

The protracted brinksmanship flirted with a possible U.S. default before ending when Republicans caved to the insistence of Obama and Democrats that legislation funding the government and raising the federal borrowing limit should be free -- or at least mostly free -- from partisan issues and tactics.

After all the bickering and grandstanding, the billions lost and trust squandered, the result amounted to much ado about nothing.

"I am happy it's ended," Vice President Joe Biden said when he arrived at the Environmental Protection Agency with coffee cakes handed out to returning workers. "It was unnecessary to begin with. I'm happy it's ended."

In the basement of the U.S. Capitol, there were exuberant hugs as furloughed colleagues were welcomed back, but there was also bitterness toward the elected legislators in charge upstairs.

A common refrain was the sarcastic question: "How was your vacation?" Responses were often nonverbal -- an eye roll, a head shake, an angry glare, the occasional ironic laugh.

The agreement to end the shutdown and avert a potential government default came Wednesday from Senate leaders after House Republicans were unable to get their own caucus to support a GOP proposal.

Hardline Republicans, whose opposition to Obama's signature health care reforms set the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis in motion, got pretty much zip -- except maybe marred reputations.

"To say we as Republicans left a lot on the table would be one of the biggest understatements in American political history," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted.

However, it all amounts to the cliched kicking of the can down the road, because the deal passed by Congress in lightning fashion Wednesday night and signed by Obama in the wee hours of Thursday only funds the government through January 15 and raises the debt ceiling until February 7.

The agreement set up budget negotiations between the GOP-led House and Democratic-led Senate intended to reach a broader agreement on funding the government for the fiscal year that ends on September 30.

Ideally, a budget compromise would ensure government funding and include deficit reduction provisions that would prevent another round of default-threatening brinksmanship in three months' time.

Obama planned a live statement at 10:35 a.m. ET, about an hour after the leaders of the House and Senate budget committees -- Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington -- were having a symbolic breakfast to get the dialogue started.

They noted that their negotiations -- called a conference between their two committees to work out differences in budgets passed by each chamber -- differed from a special committee set up under 2011 legislation that failed to agree on broader deficit reduction steps.

"Chairman Ryan knows I'm not gonna vote for his budget. I know that he's not gonna vote for mine," Murray told reporters, saying the goal was to find "the common ground between our two budgets that we both can vote on."

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